Jonathan Frakes admitted this week that it took a few years before he really got to enjoy his role as Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“I looked very, very stiff in those early seasons because I was so intent on living up to the vision that [Gene Roddenberry] had, and it was not real fun,” the actor told the Los Angeles Times. Roddenberry had written Riker as a dedicated first officer, for whom duty came above everything.
“I’m a little more silly than that,” Frakes said. Fortunately, he was able to incorporate the lighter sides from his own life into his character after he mentioned to one of the writers his love of jazz. “All of a sudden, Riker was playing the trombone, and they let a little bit of the playfulness in. And it all changed for the better.”
Another of these changes was that Frakes was given the opportunity to expand his role and try his hand at the director’s chair. “I loved my job, I loved the people I was working with, but I just felt antsy,” Frakes said. “So I looked around and asked: What’s the best job on the set? To me, the best job on the set appeared to be the director’s job. I knew something about staging, I knew something about acting, I had been around the camera a lot. So I started rolling around this idea.”
“He allowed me to go to what we now call Paramount University and I spent like 300 hours in the editing room, I’d go to pre-production and go to post-production, I’d go to scoring sessions and the sound-spotting and just all of it,” Frakes continued. “I think in the back of his mind he was hoping I would lose interest. The last thing he wants is to open that floodgate of actors who want to direct.”
In the full interview, Frakes reflects on his recent reunion with the TNG cast at the Calgary Expo, and shares some more memories of his long time as part of the crew of the Enterprise.